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Generational Change: Āwhina’s story

Portrait of happy Maori woman at home.

“I never knew what hope was, what faith was, or what trust was. I knew the words, but I didn’t know what they were. That’s what this programme has instilled—those little words that I heard but didn’t know.”

“Before Te Whakaora, life was hell. I’d be lucky to go three days without being beaten. I was willing to do anything to be loved…I can’t remember how many times I passed out from being strangled. I remember running to my daughter’s room once because I knew if I was alone, I would die.”

Coping with a life of domestic abuse and unresolved hurts and trauma from childhood, Āwhina turned to drugs as an escape. When Oranga Tamarki discovered the violence in the home and her drug addiction, her son and daughter were uplifted, and she was told she would never regain custody of her kids.

In May they uplifted my daughter, in June they uplifted my son. I remember sitting by the Christmas tree looking at their unopened presents. I was empty. I was nothing. I sat there and got high on meth to numb the emotions.

She didn’t know where to turn for help, not feeling safe with government agencies because she couldn’t be honest with them, having learned to only tell them “what they wanted to hear”.

“I went to CADS (Community Alcohol and Drug Services) and you hear ‘drugs are bad’, but they don’t go into why you need them.”

A glimmer of hope arrived when she saw changes in a friend who was attending Te Whakaora’s Family Restoration Course.

“I knew if he could change, then change was possible. And if I could change, maybe it was possible to have my children back home with me. All I want is for them to have a better life.”

We know from the 18 years we’ve been in this community that our work creates powerful, long-term change in individuals and families that ripple through the wider community and down through generations. We’ve never been able to exactly measure or quantify it – until recently.

For the last three years, we’ve been working with Impact Lab, an organisation co-founded by Sir Bill English which measures the social impact and outcomes of social services providers. It does this by calculating both the benefits a programme provides as well as avoided costs to government, using government data and international literature and research.

We are excited to announce Impact Lab found Te Whakaora’s Social Return on Investment is $8.50 for every $1 invested – putting us in the top 5% of social service providers. The results found a marked reduction in child maltreatment, addictions, offending, and family violence and an increase in financial stability and employment.

Additionally, there are other outcomes from our programme to be better measured such as mental health benefits and most importantly, the flow-on effects to children. In our experience, these flow-on effects are where the real value of our work is. When someone is emotionally restored, resourced with the tools to live well, and reconnected into community, it breaks the intergenerational cycles of hurt, harm and destructive behaviour, changing the entire trajectory and lived experience of their children for the better.

After joining our Family Restoration Programme, Āwhina says working with Te Whakaora was different from anything she has ever experienced, simply calling it “life-changing”.

“I could tell [Te Whakaora] honestly what’s going on, because I feel safe and trust them. I told them about the drugs and they asked me why I use them. I had never asked myself that question before.”

“You learn in the programme you’re not this bad person that will never amount to anything….I realised I don’t actually need drugs.”

In her one-on-one counselling session with Te Whakaora, Āwhina had mapped out on a whiteboard all the hurts and trauma in her life which had resulted in coping mechanisms and destructive behaviours.

She remembers vividly the moment she forgave those who hurt her right from the time she was a child, breaking a dysfunctional cycle that had been perpetuated for generations. “Forgiveness isn’t about the other person, it’s about me”

“After I rubbed it all off the whiteboard, I could see my face in the reflection. I could see me. I could see a clean slate”

“I never knew what hope was, what faith was, or what trust was. I knew the words, but I didn’t know what they were. That’s what this programme has instilled—those little words that I heard but didn’t know.”

Āwhina is now completely drug-free, and recently had a new baby girl. While pregnant, she was informed that her baby would be removed immediately after birth and placed into state care. However, since working with Te Whakaora, Oranga Tamariki could see the changes in her life. These observations, along with advocacy from Te Whakaora on her behalf, meant that she was not only allowed to keep her baby, but she was also given more time with her son and daughter, with a strong possibility of regaining custody.

“I still wake up and ask ‘how did I get here? I’m so happy where I am. This is what I wanted my life to be like, ever since I was a little girl.”

Āwhina finally has her son and daughter back home in her care, and Oranga Tamariki have closed her file.

I want my children to have what I have now. As a parent, you put seeds in, and now my seeds are of love and hope and encouragement so they can blossom into something amazing.

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